On top of the ice at Madison Square Garden is the hardwood floor on which the New York Knicks play. As mediocre and mismanaged as the Rangers are, the Knicks maybe even worse. Not surprisingly, both franchises are owned by the same company: Cablevision.
When Cablevision bought the two teams in 1997, the vision of CEO James Dolan was to make them the pillars of a company in which each holding—from the retail electronics chain The Wiz to Clearview Cinemas to Madison Square Garden—enhanced the value of the others. It was to be a synergistic empire for the new millennium.
So far, so bad. The two teams have struggled competitively—the Knicks are a lottery-bound squad for the second straight season, with no All-Stars and plenty of empty seats at Madison Square Garden, which had its nine-year sellout streak end in November. (A Cablevision spokesman points out that the Knicks are playing to more than 97% of capacity.) The company recently had to sell assets such as the Bravo Network to pay its mounting debt. The revenue of the MSG unit—which includes the MSG network, Fox Sports Net New York, the Knicks and the Rangers—was down 9% in the third quarter compared with the previous year. The company's stock price, which reached an alltime high of $91.88 in 1999, closed at 16.85 on Monday.
Then there is the TV issue. In 2002 the Yankees moved their telecasts to YES, a cable network they started. Though 35 other regional cable companies carry YES, Cablevision is unwilling to pay the monthly fee of $2 per subscriber. The result: 2.9 million subscribers were unable to watch 130 Yankees games last year, even if they were willing to pay for them.
Yes and Cablevision are at loggerheads, meaning millions of Yankees fans may go another season unable to watch their team. Meanwhile, thanks to Cablevision, the Knicks and the Rangers are hardly worth watching.